After a bloodbath in Egypt, which claimed nearly a thousand lives, a much worse carnage in Syria has hit the headlines where as many as 1,300 people are said to have been gassed to death. If confirmed, it would be the world’s worst chemical weapon attack in decades.
While the details of this gory incident are not available at the time of writing there is little doubt that the massacre has its origins in the age-old Shia-Sunni conflict.
Approximately three fourths of Syria are Sunni, but its government is predominantly Alawi, a Shia sect that makes up less than 15 per cent of the population, The bloody conflict between the two warring sects of Islam is pretty old. In the 1980s, thousands were killed in clashes between the two.
The violent ongoing conflict in Syria is not an isolated instance where Muslims are killing each other. Apart from Egypt, Muslims are at the throat of fellow Muslims in Algeria, Mali, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan. What is the ideological motivation that keeps this intra-faith war going on unabated?
Imagine for instance, what would have been the reaction in India if security forces had been compelled to free a mosque occupied by one group of Muslims as it happened in Cairo the other day and in the process over a thousand lay dead? Where are all those who take to the streets in India following a stray death of a Palestine Muslim at the hands of Israeli army?
The political divide in Egypt may have many different roots. But all of it is confined to within one community with the army coming out of the barracks to resurrect what are considered the true streams for liberal democracy of the Arab Spring. The popular agitation against the authoritarian regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak was led by Egyptian liberals but the Muslim Brotherhood subverted it and after coming to power changed the constitution to take the country to jihadi Islam.
This incidentally follows the same history as in Russia in 1919 when the Tsarist regime was ousted by the liberal Mensheviks. But the movement was subverted by the communist Bolsheviks to their advantage. It took the Russians 75 years to free themselves from Leninist communism and return to democracy. The latest reports from Cairo say the army has accused the Muslim Brotherhood of instigating the attack on the liberals-led agitation that led to the ousting of the Brotherhood-backed Morsi from power.
In the West African Mali Republic we recently witnessed similar fights between the ruling Islamic government and a rebel extremist Islamic movement. France had to send in its troops to secure the regime from the extremist, Islamic armed attackers. In Nigeria the war between government troops of an Islamic regime and a religious extremist movement, Boko Haram, has come to a climax with the government forces killing the chief of the movement.
In Muslim majority Algeria it is again the army-backed Islamic regime that is suppressing with a ruthless hand the extremist jihadis. In Yemen, too, a similar war prevails. In any of the other Gulf countries, local Islamic regimes are vigilant against their own version of al-Qaeda.
Globally the elimination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and the Yemeni al-Qaeda founder has not reduced the threat of a jihadi takeover of Muslim majority countries and jihadi attacks on European governments and public.
That in the holy Ramadan days this July-August Pakistan saw the maximum number of Shia Muslims being killed by Sunnis exposes the type of real threat the religious community faces — from fellow Muslim regimes, movements and orthodoxies violently competing with arms to establish who is a truer Muslim.
In Lahore on holy Eid the leader of JuD, the Pakistani jihadi group, gave a call for global violence against other nations and peoples including Muslim regimes. Last Friday, after 57 Shias were murdered by two suicide bombers near Peshawar, the police told a New York Times reporter that there has been an attack by the Taliban everyday for the past five months…but local Shias remain a special target.” In Balochistan the Shias have been hunted down with such frequency that their killing does not even make it to the front pages.
Even ambulances carrying murdered Shias have been attacked. Zia-ul-Haq had tweaked the penal code to criminalise anything said against the “righteous Caliphs or companions of the Holy Prophet” — the Shias and Sunnis differ over who the “righteous” successors to the Holy Prophet of Islam are.
So, by law the Shias are now condemned by the Islamic government of Pakistan as criminals, the Sunni jihadis are taking it to the logical conclusion by eliminating the Shia Muslims. Pakistan has declared that “sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone”.
No wonder Pakistan is the most violent place on earth and the victims of the terrorist violence in it are Muslims. It is true not just of Pakistan but also of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, et al.
When an Islamic country declares in its fundamental national document what Pakistan has done, it is an open invitation for terrorism to take on a global dimension. Religious minorities (like Pundits in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley or Christians in Pakistan or in Nigeria for instance) are not the only victims of a religious community that is instructed by its extremists to use suicide bombers as weapons of attain divine favour.
The way some Muslims are targeted in the entire Muslim region from Egypt to Pakistan (Islam’s leader, much honoured Saudi Arabia is against terrorists but its Shia and other minority Muslims have not even simple human rights) underline the terrible truth that American scholar of Islam Bernard Lewis warned the global community in 2003 at the end of his widely read book The Crisis of Islam: “If freedom fails and terror triumphs, the peoples of Islam will be the first and greatest victims. They will not be alone, and many others will suffer with them.” What is happening in Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq , Yemen, Nigeria etc. is sending the message to Muslims themselves: “Others” can wait, let us first take on our own co-religionists who are not with us or of our understanding of what Islam is.
Balbir Punj is National Vice President, BJP.